The Kenesha Jackson story: Holding judges accountable in the age of accountability

In this country, there may be different degrees of culpability for murder and other crimes. In some instances, a passive or even unwitting participant in a crime may face the same criminal consequences as an active participant. In other circumstances, an active or passive participant in a crime may face a lesser degree of punishment than the actual perpetrator of the crime. In general, anyone who has participated in a crime on any level is typically held accountable for that crime.

Kenesha Jackson and her children

Kenesha Jackson was murdered Nov. 23, 2016, in her apartment while her children were present. Everett Highbaugh, the father of her children, is scheduled to stand trial for her murder. On Aug. 9, 2016, Kenesha asked Judge Garry Ichikawa for a domestic violence restraining order against Mr. Highbaugh. According to Kenesha’s handwritten complaint, Mr. Highbaugh was terrorizing Kenesha. Her haunting, handwritten request for the order of protection can be reviewed at http://solanofamilies.org/ 2018/02/15/say-her-name-kenesha-jackson/.

On Sept. 23, 2016, Judge Ichikawa denied her request, in full. He opined that although Mr. Highbaugh may have “technically” committed domestic violence against her, the court was not mandated to give her a restraining order, as he concluded there was no imminent threat of death. The judge went on to add that perhaps she was responsible for Mr. Highbaugh’s behavior.

Exactly two short months later, Kenesha’s children witnessed the horror of their mother being gunned down, by their father, in their own home. In her request to the court on Aug. 9, 2016, Kenesha was clearly begging Judge Ichikawa for a restraining order; yet, he refused to offer her any protections against her abuser.

In another case before the Honorable Ichikawa, the court awarded custody of two young children to their allegedly abusive father. The father promptly molested the 12-year old daughter. After a Child Protective Services investigation (CPS), the daughter was returned to her mother.

In what appeared to be retaliation, Judge Ichikawa cut off all contact between the mother and her younger son, who was ordered to remain in the full custody of the father. There was evidence that the son was also being molested, but since Judge Ichikawa cut off all contact with the mother, there was no way to prove the additional allegations and now no way for the son to seek the protection of his mother.

In her request to the court on Aug. 9, 2016, Kenesha was clearly begging Judge Ichikawa for a restraining order; yet, he refused to offer her any protections against her abuser.

Who is responsible for the murder of Kenesha Jackson? Most certainly Everett Highbaugh, if he is found guilty of her murder. Who is responsible for the molestation of the 12-year old little girl? Again, the father is responsible for her molestation.

The question remains, would Kenesha Jackson still be alive if Judge Ichikawa had granted her the order of protection that she had requested? One could argue that while the temporary restraining order was in place, there were no further acts of domestic violence against Kenesha. It was only after the court refused to grant Kenesha a permanent restraining order against her abuser that she was killed.

Additionally, there is the disturbing story of the 12-year old daughter. Would her innocence have remained intact had custody not been awarded to an alleged abuser? Most certainly, the mother believes that Judge Ichikawa bears an enormous amount of responsibility for her daughter’s molestation.

The rumors are rampant in Solano County that Judge Garry Ichikawa has a bias against survivors of domestic violence and places children in dangerous situations. Do the cases of Kenesha Jackson and the 12-year old daughter illuminate that bias? The families of those people and the general public will have to come to their personal conclusions about the judge’s culpability in both cases.

The question remains, would Kenesha Jackson still be alive if Judge Ichikawa had granted her the order of protection that she had requested?

If Judge Ichikawa does maintain any degree of responsibility, in either case, does a mechanism exist for holding him accountable for murder or molestation? Ironically, the California State Bar subsequently gave Garry Ichikawa the “Judge of the Year” award in 2017 – the same entity that refused complaints that have been submitted to inform them of his conduct.

Judges in Family Law have wide discretion and almost total immunity when it comes to their rulings on cases. If a Family Law judge were held to the same standard as criminal defendants in a crime, that particular judge would be facing time in prison for his role in the crime.

Judge Ichikawa has never had to answer for his role, if any, in Kenesha’s death. That same judge has not had to explain why he refused to protect a 12-year old girl from an abusive father who molested her.

Judges in Family Law have wide discretion and almost total immunity when it comes to their rulings on cases.

The criminal justice system is designed to punish and rehabilitate. The goal is for a criminal defendant never to repeat his crimes again. Because judges in Family Law are given such wide discretion, there appears to be no system in place to prevent judges from placing women and children in dangerous situations.

One can only speculate that if judges had to be held accountable for their alleged role in a crime, survivors of domestic violence would be protected from their abusers. And maybe, just maybe, Kenesha Jackson would be alive and that 12-year-old girl would have remained untouched.

To learn more, contact Solano Families United, whose mission is to fight bias in the Solano County Family Court system, at http://solanofamilies.org/get-involved-volunteer/.